Israeli student in UK wins battle over bias claims

Smadar Bakovic from Neveh Ilan wins campaign against anti-Israel advisor in Warwick University.

graduation students school university 311 (photo credit: thinkstock)
graduation students school university 311
(photo credit: thinkstock)
LONDON – An Israeli student has successfully challenged a British university that assigned an anti-Israel lecturer as her dissertation supervisor.
Smadar Bakovic from Neveh Ilan was completing a master’s degree in Warwick University’s Department of Politics and International Studies in 2010 when Nicola Pratt, associate professor of international politics of the Middle East, was assigned as her supervisor.
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Following an anti-Israel event on campus that Pratt chaired, Bakovic did some research and discovered that Pratt regularly used racist language to describe Israel and was a vocal advocate of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
During Operation Cast Lead, Pratt was a signatory to a letter in the Guardian calling for Israel to lose the battle with Hamas, stating that the “massacres in Gaza are the latest phase of a war Israel has waged against the people of Palestine.”
In April 2010, Bakovic wrote to the university to ask if she could be assigned another supervisor in light of Pratt’s anti-Israel stance.
“I am not challenging Prof. Pratt’s intellectual abilities,” she wrote. “I’m sure she is extremely competent... [but] I would be much happier that a person who is not involved in anti-Israel campaigns be my supervisor.”
Her request was refused. In a response, Chris Browning, an associate professor in the department who deals with the assignment of dissertation supervisors, said Bakovic had been given an adviser with “a particular expertise in Middle East politics.”
He added that “our policy is not to allow changes of advisors once they have been assigned out of considerations of equity between students.”
That November, Bakovic received her grade – a pass – from Pratt.
However, she accused the professor of being under the spell of her anti-Israel sentiments, and argued that after receiving high grades during the year and being told she was on course for a distinction, it was her belief that she deserved more than just a pass.
Bakovic had written about the identity of Israeli Arabs after the second intifada. In her feedback, Pratt said that Bakovic had a tendency to “adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as thought they were uncontested facts.”
As an example, Pratt cited the student’s point that minorities in Arab countries did not have equal citizenship rights.
“That is not strictly correct,” Pratt maintained.
“Minorities in Arab countries have the same citizenship rights as the majority but there are usually restraints on the freedom of religion (except Lebanon) and also limits on minority cultural expression in Syria. More significantly, there are restraints on citizenship rights in general for the whole population.”
Bakovic decided to appeal the decision and request a regrading.
However, the university told her that while she was welcome to do so, her case did not fit into any of the school’s criteria for appeals.
“I feel that the marking I received for my dissertation did not reflect the work I wrote, and I can only relate this mark to a personal bias towards my personally as well as towards the country from which I come,” she contended.
“My fears were in fact answered by Prof. Pratt with her ridiculous comment that I have a ‘tendency to adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as though they were uncontested facts.’” She fought the university using its own charter until it finally relented. This past June, after seven months of trying, the Complaints Committee finally agreed that she could have her dissertation re-marked.
Last week, she received her new mark and was awarded a distinction.
In an official statement, the university said it stood by the original mark but admitted it should have done more to heed to Bakovic’s request to change her supervisor at the very beginning.
“A chance was given to rework the dissertation only because the strength of the student’s feelings was not taken into consideration at the start,” it stated.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Bakovic said the university and the Department of Politics and International Studies should have avoided this outcome from the beginning.
“The problem is that unlike [with] other ethnic minorities, the department didn’t acknowledge a lecturer inciting against Israelis as being racist or amounting to discrimination.”
What happened to her would not have happened to any other ethnic minority, she claimed “It happened to me because hatred against Israelis and Jews is widespread among a section of UK academia,” she asserted. “Inciting racial hatred, as Prof. Pratt does, is seemingly tolerated if it is against Jews and Israelis.”
She said the issue was not the grade, but the process.
“It doesn’t matter how many people marked it, or the grade.... I felt I could not write freely,” she said. “I wrote my dissertation under intimidation. I could not express my ideas, which is against the university’s charter and against academic principles.”